Sunday, 12 January 2020

The Ramblings Of A Silly Old Man - CHAPTER FOURTEEN


No I do not mean Reading. Writing and Arithmetic, 

Do you believe in the death penalty ?

In 1981 I was called to jury service at Aylesbury Crown Court where we tried three drug smuggling cases. In the first case we found the accused innocent, in the second one was found guilty and one innocent, in the third we returned a guilty verdict. ALL were guilty but cases prepared by UK Customs were just not strong enough.

In that third case one jury member was arguing reasonable doubt but I launched into  fierce declaration of guilt and changed the sway of the jury. The accused went to prison. Had capital punishment been in force would I have set myself up to change the jury verdict in the way I did ?


The only words a judge was allowed to speak when passing the death sentence in a British court.

As a teenager my father knew a man, Sir Donald Finnemore, who was a high court judge and had spoken those words several times. I remember Sir Donald coming to our home and walking into the sitting room where I was doing my homework. I was in awe. No I was scared, scared stiff. Here was a man who held the power of life and death over criminals. I stood up and stuttered as I spoke.

As a teacher at Leon School I had an extended essay project I ran debating the death penalty with students in my English classes.  We studied cases where an innocent person was executed.  

Timothy Evans was hung by the neck until dead for the murders Reginald Christie committed.

Derek Bentley was a young vulnerable adult who fell in with an under eighteen year old criminal Christopher Craig.  Together they robbed a warehouse, Craig had a gun. When the police arrived and told Craig to drop the gun Bentley said: LET HIM HAVE IT CHRIS. Bentley shot and killed a police officer. The prosecution said those words meant shoot him. The defense said it meant hand over the gun. Both were found guilty of murder. Bentley was executed but because Craig was under age he served a prison sentence.

In my book The Case Files of Dave McDermott a fictional criminal is fascinated by locations of past crimes. One of these is the A6 Murder which took place between Bedford and Luton. I remember this case as a young lad. It was a major news item. James Hanratty was found guilty and executed in Bedford Prison. There have always been doubts as to his being guilty.

So if the death penalty were still in force and I was again doing jury service how would I feel about my vote taking away a person's life ? Would I have made the impassioned appeal to fellow jury members as I did and changed their minds to bring in a guilty verdict ? How would I feel if I were part of a jury that found someone guilty, that person was executed then subsequently found to be innocent ?  How did the jury members in Timothy  Evans  case feel ?  

I was in San Francisco some years back when a convicted murderer was executed in the gas chamber. The press and media coverage before and after the execution was OBSCENE !

Margaret Thatcher's government gave parliament a free vote on the restoration of the death penalty. Parliament voted not to bring it back. What is your opinion ?

I began by saying the three cases I tried as a jury member were drug smuggling.  All involved bringing cannabis (a Class B drug) through Heathrow Airport. If there was a referendum today to bring back the death penalty for dealing Class A drugs I would vote, indeed I would campaign, for all convicted drug dealers at any level to face those words: YOU WILL BE TAKEN FROM THIS PLACE TO THE PLACE FROM WHENCE YOU CAME AND THEN TO A PLACE OF LAWFUL EXECUTION WHERE YOU WILL BE HUNG BY THE NECK UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD. MAY THE LORD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL.

So what about these three R's - not Reading, Writing and Arithmetic - Retribution, Reformation and Rehabilitation. There are three aspects to judicial punishment, the death penalty considers only one - Retribution. Although I would favour the death penalty being reintroduced for criminal drug dealers to do so would be too easy a solution.  

RETRIBUTION - taking revenge. I do not favour prison being the natural route to punishment, it needs to be used a sentence with greater care than it is at the moment. That's what I think. I also think that a life sentence should be mandatory for murder with absolutely no chance of parole. Life has to mean life. In the same way a sentence of three years, five years, ten years has to mean just that with no time off for good behaviour. Indeed any bad behaviour while in prison has to mean an increased sentence.Time in prison has to begin with the basics, no television, no comforts beyond the minimum.  Everything has to be earned. Every prisoner must have his waking time fully engaged. I have no problem with bringing back the treadmill. 86,613 people are in prison at the time I am writing today, just think how much electricity they could generate on a treadmill. Green energy helping save our planet. Perhaps we should imprison more offenders.

REFORMATION - the judicial system plays lip service to this. The number of re-offenders currently in prison is 46%, consider those who initially served a one year or less sentence and the figure rises to 60%.  Unless proper attention to this failing area of the justice system is applied then the best thing just has to be to give every person found guilty in a court a life sentence. Remember within my philosophy life means life.

REHABILITATION - unless you have properly dealt with Reformation here is no point at all in thinking about Rehabilitation.

The British Justice Systems THREE R's - RUBBISH, RUBBISH and RUBBISH.

To bring this ramble to an end let me share an anecdote. I once applied for a job within the education department at Bedford Prison, the same prison where James Hanratty was executed. As I toured the prison the only people who talked any sense at all were the prisoners ! I was asked by an education manager what I would say were the educational objectives of a prisoner working in the laundry ! R again - RUBBISH !  A prisoner being gainfully employed washing linen does not need an education objective. I told Bedford Prison where to stick its RUBBISH job.

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